A return to Carson, NM.

Like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle, there’s pieces of the Carson National Forest across a sizeable patch of northern New Mexico. There’s a chunk up near Chama, on the Coloradan border, that runs all the way down to El Rito. There’s a slender strand to the west. And across the waters of the Rio Grande, there’s some sizeable portions north and south of Taos, set into the steep-sided folds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The last time Tim and I were there, snow restricted play – so we dipped into the ramshackle communities of Vallecitos and Plaza Cañon, north east of El Rito. This time, 6 weeks later and with summer making its entrance, we were able to push further north to quiet and remote high pastures, up at 10 500ft (3200m).

The forest of of El Rito is drier, more desert like, with junipers giving way to ponderosas.

The lower flanks of the Carson National Forest are dusty and arid, straddling the threshhold between junipers and ponderosas.

Further up, it's a maze of primitive dirt roads...

Further up, it’s a maze of primitive dirt roads…

... and high pastures.

… and high pastures.

Home to skunk cabbage, which proves inedible despite Jeremy's best intentions.

A Skunk Cabbage, so named for its odorous flowers.

The scale of the forest is impressive - as is its network of little-travelled trails.

The scale of the forest is impressive – as is its network of barely-travelled trails.

The logistics of bikepacking here are easy too, thanks to the abundance of water.

Tim brought along his Steripen Traveller. It's lithium battery is USB chargeable - very neat.

Tim brought along his Steripen Freedom UV filter. Its lithium battery is USB chargeable – a neat little device.

Consolidation of the map required.

Consultation of the map required.

A spaghetti noodles of possibility.

A spaghetti noodle of possibilities.

And, there's no shortage of good campsites either. This is my gear - a 6 Moon Designs Gatewood cape - just 11oz, or 312g - with a Tyvek ground sheet and a -1C North Face sleeping bag.

And, there’s no shortage of good campsites either. My current setup: a 6 Moon Designs Gatewood cape – just 11oz/312g – with a Tyvek ground sheet and a -1C North Face sleeping bag.

Aspen country. Come autumn, and the place will be ablaze with colour.

Aspen country. Come autumn, the place will be ablaze with colour.

Tim adds some coconut oil to his porridge - a healthy fat packed with energy.

The kitchen. Cooking over his homemade caldera stove, Tim adds some coconut oil to his porridge – which packs both a tonne of energy for its weight, as well as lending a tasty richness to food.

Jeremy goes for 'hippy tacos' - laced with hemp seeds and tahini.

Jeremy goes for ‘hippy tacos’ – laced with guacamole, hemp seeds and tahini.

Tim.

Tim…

And his steed: a faithful Marin Pine Mountain, shod with 2.4 WTB Mutano Raptors and weighing in at 25lbs. Gear, including food for two days (but no water,) adds another 20lbs.

… and his steed: a faithful Marin Pine Mountain, clad with Revelate bags and shod with 2.4 WTB Mutano Raptors and weighing in at 25lbs. Gear, including food for two days (but no water,) adds another 20lbs.

Jeremy.

Jeremy…

Jeremy and his Rivendell Hunqapillar.

… and his Rivendell Hunqapillar. Complete with wire basket and heavyweight wool jacket.

The terrain in the Carson National Forest covers the whole gamut - from rutted trails to off piste singletrack and graded roads.

The terrain in the Carson National Forest covers the whole gamut – from rutted trails to off piste singletrack and graded roads.

It makes for idyllic riding, linking one meadow to the next.

It makes for idyllic riding, linking one meadow to the next.

Stream crossings provide good excuses to go barefoot.

Stream crossings provide good excuses to go barefoot.

Up on the high plateaux - 10500ft and still climbing.

Up on the high plateaux – 10500ft and still climbing.

Unfortunately, Jeremy's back was playing up.

Unfortunately, Jeremy’s back gives in without warning. So bouts of pushing…

... and recovery naps required.

… and recovery naps required.

Tim's lunch stash.

Tim’s lunch stash. Health bars, cranberries, isotonic mixes, baking chocolate, squeezy agave nectar and almonds…

Then it's back to pushing for Jeremy, unfortunately.

Then it’s back to pushing for Jeremy…

Wending our way throug the

We wend our way through pines, spruce, aspens and ponderosas. It’s easy going riding, but no less enjoyable for it.

This is CDT season. At this point, hikers on the Continental Divide Trail will be a month in, of a 5-6 month journey. We stopped and chatted to Mark - he's hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (another 5 monther), and the Colorado Trail).

The Carson National Forest is a meeting point for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Continental Divide Trail . By the time hikers reach El Rito, they’re a month into a half year journey that will take them from Mexico to Canada, along the spine of the Rockies. The equivalent bike route is raced in as quick as 15 days.

This trails looked recently finished.

Jeremy heads back to the car to recoup. Tim and I go in search of singletrack.

More of those oderous Skunk Cabbages.

Another thicket of oderous Skunk Cabbages.

This newly finished trail leads us down from the XXX lakes, linking up with Forest Road, and the descent back to the car.

A newly finished trail leads us down to the Cajillon lakes, in turn linking up with the El Rito river, which we follow downstream back down to the car.

This is my second trip to the area. A scheme to bus up to Chama and ride back to Santa Fe, via the jigsaw pieces of the Carson National Forest, is brewing...

This is my second trip to the area. A scheme to bus up to Chama and ride back to Santa Fe, via the jigsaw pieces of the Carson National Forest, is brewing…

The Basics:

There’s a good access point to the Carson National Forest from El Rito (6875ft/2100m). You can park at the church, or the Blue Bus runs there from Santa Fe, via Espanola, during the weekdays. There’s space for two bikes onboard.

We drove 5 miles or so north beyond the El Rito, camping inside the boundaries of the forest. Then we climbed due north via Cañon Largo, returning via the Cajilon Lakes and Caño Canyon.

Within this piece of the Carson National Forest (the El Rito and Cajilon districts) there’s everything from well graded dirt roads to primitive, rock strewn affairs, looping up into the higher altitude meadows of the forest – 10 000ft/3 000m plus – and back down again. Plenty of scope for a few days of remote riding. Water is abundant, as are camping spots.

The Rig

Surly Ogre.

No panniers. No backpack. It’s not superlight by any means, but it can get me everywhere I want to go…

Surly Ogre

Porcelain Rocket Single Compartment Custom Framebag

Porcelain Rocket Mission Control Handlebar Setup

Revelate Designs Gas Tank

Carradice Super C Saddlebag

Bagman2 QR with Expedition Support

note: The Bagman2 QR with Expedition Support suits me well, as it allows me to carry my Carradice Saddlebag – a cavernous bag that will fit my DSLR camera. Otherwise, I use a lighter, more minimal and rackless Porcelain Rocket Booster Rocket Seat Pack. 

23 thoughts on “A return to Carson, NM.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks for the link Ken. I’m not a coffee drinker myself, but I’ll give it a go when I need a shot of focus!

      Reply
  1. Trailer Park Cyclist

    Sorry to hear about Jeremy’s ailments. In the old days it would call for a shot of cortisone and a beer, but these ain’t the old days and I doubt there were any emergency rooms handy.

    Otherwise, what great scenery, photography, and reporting. Thanks!

    tj

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks TJ,
      In lieu of cortisone and beer, Jeremy has been acupunctured and moxad. I believe he’s on the mend.

      Perhaps attempting to ingest a semi-poisonous plant (Skunk Cabbage) wasn’t such a good idea.

      Reply
  2. Gari

    Great pics and post as ever, really great looking riding over there. I would love to spend some time exploring those desert trails, would make a change from the soggy cairngorm trails that we are currently suffering.
    I have a friend who just loves the smell of skunk cabbage, go figure?!

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks. As it happens, the Skunk Cabbage (at least, that what we thought it was) wasn’t stinky at all – but later internet research revealed it to be pungent when flowering.

      I’ve been to the Cairngorms a few times. Once, it rained most of the time. Another time, it was beautiful sunshine (as part of the Scotland off road Coast to Coast). I absolutely love the riding there, and hanker to return at some point and close the ‘Cairngorms Loop’.

      But… I do feel very fortunate to be in a part of the world where there’s fantastic scope and space for exploration, and the weather makes for blissful riding almost every day.

      Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks for your comment Kina.

      You may well be right, though it seems there are a variety of Skunk Cabbages around, and the ones we saw looked just like the ones in this link.
      http://greensandjeans.com/2011/05/04/may-wildflowers/skunk-cabbage/

      Interestingly, the photo in the agricultural university link below, seems to bunch Skunk Cabbages in the same group as False Hellebore.

      I’ve ridden 95 per cent of the GDMBR – my missing piece is Cuba-Grants (due to inclement weather), which I intend to ride soon. I’ve heard it’s another highlight of the route.

      Reply
  3. Jim Bangs

    Cass, Great timing for me on this post. I was recently again in NM and bought a DeLorme atlas of NM. Seems I am visiting more and more and am starting to brew up some plans for rides in my retirement future. I already have a road tour planned for this summer but I am thinking of an off road tour for summer of 2014 and thinking of a forest service road route down through CO. This gets me thinking of a route from Chama that will eventually get me to my sisters house in Albq..Thanks for the post and getting my thought process going!
    Jim

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Sounds good Jim. There’s some fine riding to be done in these parts, both on and off road. Of course, I’d nudge you towards the dirt…

      Reply
  4. dan

    Cass,
    Another great report. We appreciate you exploring for us. I’d spied this area, and, while hunting for more info my wife found your site. We are happy to find other bikepackers in NM. One specific question…Where does that single track start/end? If you have a moment could label it on a map and snap a photo for me, and sent it to danshorb at hotmail dot com. We’re heading there this weekend. We’d greatly appreciate it.

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Hi Dan,

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the map to hand and I’m headed out of town tomorrow. Aside from all the primitive roads, we found two short but enjoyable sections of more defined singletrack. One dropped down to the top of the lakes, and involved some stream hopping to avoid lingering snow patches. The more defined singletrack began just past the first of the Cajillon lakes, after a bend in the road on the left hand side, I seem to remember. I should add though that there’s one particularly challenging section of blowdown to clear, which involves some serious clambering. The rest is pretty good – just a few fallen trees to negotiate. We heard about it after checking one of the CDT hikers map – it’s marked as a trail in progress.

      I’ll pass your details onto Tim, owner of said map. He’s ridden in the area a few times now, and knows it pretty well. He should be able to help.

      Reply
      1. dan

        Cass,
        Thanks again for posting this trip, and giving my info to Tim. We talked for a while. Sarah and I ended up doing two days up there from Canjilon Lakes to Hopewell Lake and back via a cool loop, and we only bikeshwacked a mile or so ;-( We’re talking about a trip up into the Platoro/Wolf Creek Pass area if you’re interested. No set dates yet. Some of our pics can be found on mbpost here: http://www.mbpost.com/new-mexico/287116
        We’re teachers, so we have several open days this summer.

        Reply
        1. Cass Gilbert Post author

          Thanks for posting your photos Dan. The loop you did is similar to the one Tim and I were originally planning. Looks like I need to go back again! Great shots.

          I’d love to explore Colorado more – let me know when you figure out a date. I may well be able to join if it’s this month or next.

          Reply
  5. Adam Bandstra

    HI Cass,
    As always, incredibly inspirational post – photos and text, both. I’ve been reading your write-ups and trip reports for a month or two now, and since lost count of how many of my velo-friends I’ve directed to WOR and Bunyan Velo. That being said, my question is really mundane: what are you using as a Carradice saddle bag support on the Ogre? On my Troll, there’s a similar support bracket taking shape, but I’d like to try and avoid reinventing the wheel, as it were. Any little tip would be great!

    Thanks again for the great work, and happy riding.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks for your kind words, Adam.

      The support in question is called a Bagman2 QR with expedition struts.
      http://www.carradice.co.uk/products/other/bagman

      I really like it – but I should add that unfortunately I managed to break the support, which a framebuilding friend repaired. Since then, Carradice sent me a replacement prototype, that uses a burlier tubing. So far, so good. This said, I’m pretty sure the original model is stout enough for most uses. I took it to Sedona, where the terrain is really rocky and challenging, and probably beyond what it was designed for. For dirt roads/gravel/normal trails, I think it’s pretty ideal.

      Reply
  6. El Guapo

    Hey man,
    With some friends, we planned to do our first bikepacking trip over june 7-8th in the Jemez mountains. Due to the Thompson ridge fire, we decided to find a different area and your blog provided good inspiration about where to go. Here is a link to our route.
    http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/225758593
    We camped up on the spur at the north end by the creek. Starting out and hitting the ridge was awesome. We saw tons of Elk. The route back on day 2 was interesting because we could not find all of the roads that we planned to take, and we bush-whacked it for about 1/2 mile. It made for a lot of fun though. Thanks again for the inspiration! I hope to get up there again soon. Especially further north.
    BTW, if you stop by the El Rito ranger district office, they have a free map that shows all of the legit roads in the area. It is still fun to have the 7.5′ topo and try to find some unused roads, but it is always good to know the well maintained roads in case you need to bail!
    -El Guapo

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      That’s great to hear El Guapo, thanks for your message! Thanks too for the route link, and heads up re the range office – good to know.

      Reply
  7. Sascha

    Hey Cass,

    I was just going through some of your older posts and was just wondering how you find the single compartment frame bag as opposed to the duel as I’m thinking of ordering one from Porcelain Rocket soon for my Troll…?

    By the way this is my favourite blog…keep it up!

    Thanks,

    Sascha

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Right now, I favour the single compartment, because I keep my Macbook Air in my framebag (fits perfectly in a 22in frame). Otherwise, I’d go with a double compartment in terms of ease of organisation. The double, however, weighs more, costs more, and you lose a little internal space.

      Really though, I think it just depends on what you plan to pack in there. And perhaps the size of the frame – compartments making more sense for larger frames, as they help to hold the shape of the bag, and there’s more room for stuff to float around.

      Whatever you decide, keep the zips dust free and clean. That’s the only weak point on a framebag. Otherwise, I love them.

      Reply
      1. Sascha

        Thanks Cass,

        I’m currently riding an 18″ Troll and thought possibly the single compartment bag would allow the possibility of fitting a water bladder inside if required…

        Thanks again…

        Reply

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